This week we are sharing CEO B.J. Wiley Williams’ background and vision for her company, SoHookd (JSF ‘18).
B.J. is a self-described wellness nerd and fitness fanatic. She enjoys spending her time staying active in and around Washington, D.C. with her husband, Les.
Q: What’s your 30-second elevator pitch for SoHookd?
A: SoHookd is a loyalty platform filled with luxe experiences from national and local wellness brands. We make it simple and fun to reward or gift the people you care about with healthy experiences that are good for the mind, body and soul — from fresh food delivery service and athletic apparel to fitness or spa experiences. We have three main stakeholders: consumers (either customers/employees), enterprises, and wellness brands. Our three products that bring value to our customers:
- SoHookd Marketplace Gift Card — Allows our users to give the gift of wellness to clients, co-workers, family or friends. The gift card is perfect for those who crave well-being and choice given that it unlocks many different wellness experiences under one roof.
- SoHookd Turn-Key Wellness Program — Helps employers promote a healthy lifestyle and attract, inspire and keep their talent. Our program tracks healthy behavior (moving/hydrating/restoring) and leverages the SoHookd Marketplace as the incentive. Be healthy, give healthy.
- Powered by SoHookd – Allows other loyalty and engagement platforms to offer experiences from national and local wellness brands by partnering with us.
Q: Looking back at life before SoHookd’s launch, what experiences were most influential to you which drove you to become an entrepreneur and to start and run SoHookd?
A: As I reflect, there are so many experiences that provided me the courage and strength to become an entrepreneur and inspired me to found SoHookd. However, below are a few of the highlights:
- Role models: Both of my parents were entrepreneurs and built impactful companies & organizations. They used passion as their compass to create meaningful impact. My dad and his Partners started and built the largest black-owned law firm in New England. My mom started a well-known toy store on Martha’s Vineyard focused on high quality and educational toys. After she closed the store, she focused her efforts towards another one of her passions and led and built a sustainable social enterprise that significantly enhanced the Boston’s business community. I was lucky I was exposed to entrepreneurship at an early age and had positive role models that I can lean on.
- Athlete: As a health-nerd and fitness fanatic, wellness has always been my anchor. Growing up, I was an avid athlete and always looked to sports to provide structure to my day, the space to clear my head and the medium to test my will. Today, I still look to physical activity to play that role. However, instead of playing sports I’ve moved it to the gym and boutique fitness studios.
- Personal wellness obstacles: At 16 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, so it forced me to become super curious about my health and learn about integrated medicine. It’s taught me how to listen to my body, advocate for my health, and look to both Western & Eastern medicine to enhance my quality of life.
- Built a Career Toolkit: Knowing that I could draw upon previous career experiences, skills & knowledge gave me confidence to start my own business. I have 15+ years of experience working in entrepreneurial and corporate environments with deep industry experience in athletic apparel (lululemon), private equity, financial services (Citigroup Private Bank) and hospitality (Starwood, HEI Hotels & Resorts).
- Opportunity: I can see the the opportunity so clearly in my head. The wellness industry is expected to be the next trillion dollar industry and $90 Billion is spent each year on incentives. Given that it’s also predicted that in the next 5 years that EVERY brand (consumer or enterprise facing) is going to need to build wellbeing into their DNA, SoHookd is capitalizing on this market trend by providing a valuable loyalty platform that consumers love and adds another well-being touchpoint.
Q: Why healthcare?
A: Health is clearly the new wealth, and it’s more than a fad; it’s a huge shift in the American mindset. Because of this shift, the wellness industry is expected to be the next trillion dollar industry. However, this industry remains extremely fragmented, similar to the travel industry. There is a need for companies, like SoHookd, to help others navigate the space.
Q: What is the best advice you received when starting SoHookd?
A: It takes a village, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is also the most underrated advice. Being a founder can be intimidating, but you don’t have to go it alone. You may be surprised who ends up being in your corner and willing to help via marketing, sharing knowledge, investing or even quitting their job to help you full-time, but you will never know unless you ask.
Q: Has Jumpstart been helpful to your entrepreneurial journey?
A: Very much so! Jumpstart Foundry’s impact has been significant in three areas:
Community:Being able to easily tap into an amazing community of founders, advisors, mentors, influencers, investors and collaborators who can provide on-the spot feedback and guidance has been invaluable. For example, with help from marketing professionals in Jumpstart’s community, we adjusted how we tell our story and how we position ourselves in the market. Previously, we described ourselves as a corporate wellness program. We now describe ourselves as a loyalty platform that offers users wellness based rewards. Repositioning allows us to better highlight the uniqueness, soul and long-term vision of SoHookd.
Credibility: We all know, a little love from your friends goes a long way. Being endorsed by Jumpstart Foundry garners respect, especially given JSF is at the epicenter of Nashville’s thriving startup ecosystem. This recognition has allowed SoHookd to continue to draw in additional early adopters.
Connections: JSF has helped to fuel our growth by being the ultimate connector from customers and channel partners to investors and influencers — allowing us to grow our customer base, develop partnerships with key players in the healthcare industry, and enhance our access to capital.
B.J. and husband, Les enjoying Jumpstart Foundry’s Alumni Party after an event in Nashville.
Q: What is your advice for other entrepreneurs?
A: Be curious, be patient, and be strong.
Curiosity: Asking questions and being curious not only has advanced my knowledge across many topics (as a founder, I’ve become an “expert” in so many topics I never even knew existed!), but it has made me realize the more I learn, the more there is so much I do not know. Continuing to ask questions and stay curious assures I’m constantly learning and able to adapt. Continuous learning also keeps things interesting and exciting which, in my opinion, is critical for maintaining motivation. Asking questions to others — industry leaders, potential customers, other founders, etc. — also has opened up so many opportunities for the growth of SoHookd as a company and of me personally, too.
Patience: Nothing happens overnight. While you vehemently believe in your company and its mission, it might take time for others to grasp it or to become an investor or customer. Allow time for the process!
Strength: Being a founder takes an abundance of courage and strength. You will be tested; that is a fact. Staying strong and true to your company, your mission and yourself are imperative to be successful.
Q: What’s the most overrated statements in the startup world?
The most overrated statement in the startup world is “being an entrepreneur or founder is sexy”. While it is extremely rewarding to be an entrepreneur, it takes a lot of hard work, grit, and being comfortable with unknowns and highs/lows to operate successfully in the space.
Q: What book/podcast/resource would you recommend to other entrepreneurs and/or was most influential to your career?
– NPR Podcast: How I Built This
– The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (Children’s book that teaches you how to dream & believe)
– Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Phil Night (Creator of Nike)
– Steve Jobs: A Biography by Walter Isaacson
– In My Shoes: A Memoir by Tamara Mellon (Founder of Jimmy Cho)
Part of this interview were originally posted on November 20, 2018 at SoHookd.com